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Saturday, 01 November 2014

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‘Bedroom tax’ hitting Cumbrian social landlords and tenants alike

A West Cumbrian social landlord claims that the so-called ‘bedroom tax’ is leaving its tenants in limbo.

keithdobson 1807
NO WINNERS: Impact Housing Association’s Keith Dobson

Social landlords say they are losing cash and do not have enough one-bedroom properties to meet demand.

The claims comes in the wake of a major report published by the Cumbria Commission on Welfare Reform, which called for the abolition of the tax.

The recently launched under-occupancy rule means that thousands of people of working age in social housing with a spare bedroom have their benefits cut by as much as 25 per cent.

Keith Dobson, director of assets and homes at Impact Housing Association, said it was losing revenue and did not have enough one-bedroom houses to meet demand.

The association spent several years selling, converting and disposing of its one-bedroom homes because demand wasn’t high.

It has two one-bedroom flats, a one-bedroom house and a one-bedroom bungalow on Workington’s Salterbeck estate.

Overall it has 155 one-bedroom flats, three one-bedroom houses and 19 one-bedroom bungalows.

Mr Dobson said that the number of bids for one-bedroom properties had increased since the new policy came in.

But, he said, the association was cautious about buying more one-bedroom houses because it was uncertain of the long term situation around the under-occupancy rule.

Before April 2013, the association received an average 12 bids per three-bedroom property, but over the last 12 months that number fell to between two and three.

He said people were put off because of the additional costs associated with the bedroom tax.

The commission’s report said the tax made no sense in Cumbria, where there were few major under-occupancy issues.

It has recommended that decisions be taken on an area-by-area basis to decide where the charge, estimated to affect about 5,900 households in Cumbria, was needed.

Bill Barnes, chairman of Home Group’s Ewanrigg and Netherton Tenants’ and Residents’ Association in Maryport, said: “It is a tax that is hitting the very poorest in our society. It is terrible, and it is going to get worse.”

Louise Barkes, deputy head of customer service at Home Group, said: “For generations, successive governments encouraged housing associations to build two and three-bedroom properties as they offered the most flexibility for customers and could provide a home for life.

“As a result, just under 10 per cent of our homes in Allerdale are one-bedroom properties.

“Since the introduction of the bedroom tax these homes have been in high demand. We will continue to build a mixture of new properties to provide homes for all sections of the market.”

Lynda Coid, operations manager for Westfield Housing Association, said that none of its 459 general need houses were currently empty and there had been no increase in demand for one of its 55 one-bedroom houses.

But, she added, it had become more difficult to get people to move into two and three-bedroom houses and there was an increase of people in arrears.

A spokesman for Your Derwent & Solway declined to comment on how the rule had affected the company, but said the social landlord had a dedicated money advice officer to support tenants.

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